Jah Wobble: It felt fantastic to go to east Belfast and be treated like a brother
Bass god Jah Wobble returns to Ireland this weekend with his band Invaders of The Heart. The ex-Public Image Limited man spoke to David Roy about dogs, dub and Brexit
JAH Wobble is well known in his adpoted home of Stockport – and so is his dog, Tyson. The London-bred bass ace has been settled 'up north' for the past couple of decades in Bramhall, where his award-winning musician wife Zi Lan Liao's family are based: he and his black and white Staffie take their daily constitutionals together, often while Wobble (61, real name John Wardle) is taking care of band business on his phone.
"He's my little baby," comments Wobble of his faithful hound as they pound the pavement together during our phone interview, which features occasional pauses for him to exchange pleasantries with other locals asking after him and/or Tyson.
"He's getting old now, so we don't do as many miles as we used to but we do a few. Sometimes he'll want to do 10 miles and other days round the block – his back legs get a bit achy but of course [Staffies are] so strong and brave, they'll never let you know – they just get on with it."
With a chuckle, he adds: "In that way, they're not like lead singers."
It was in 1978 that Jah Wobble and his friend John Lydon formed Public Image Limited following the Sex Pistols' messy demise.
Wobble – who got his memorable nickname from Pistols bass mangler Sid Vicious's comedic, lager-slurred attempt at pronouncing 'John Wardle' – recorded two seminal albums of dub-tinged post-punk experimentalism with PiL – 1979's First Issue, featuring their classic debut single Public Image, apparently the first bassline Wobble ever came up with, and the following year's celebrated Metal Box LP – before departing their ranks along with guitarist Keith Levene.
He's grown bored with the band's lack of live activity (and indeed the growing cult of personality surrounding Lydon). Indeed, this dub-loving bassist simply loves to play, with his appetite for musical grafting certainly reflected by a fearsome and ever-expanding discography punctuated by frequent musical collaborations.
Team-ups include Irish stars like Sinead O'Connor, The Edge, Ronnie Drew and Dolores O'Riordan (see the triple-disc anthology I Could Have Been a Contender for details on these), while recent releases include Invaders of The Heart's excellent 2017 LP The Usual Suspects, featuring great reworkings of songs from right across his solo career and Public Image Limited, and this year's Realm of Spells album, credited to Jah Wobble & Bill Laswell with Invaders of The Heart, Peter Apfelbaum & Hideo Yamaki.
"It's been a busy couple of years," enthuses Wobble. "My boys were teenagers up to a few years ago, which meant football [his son Charlie is now a midfielder for Stockport County], boxing and all that, so I would make sure to take them everywhere and spend a lot of time with them – there was a lot of sitting in foggy, rainy car parks, doing my duty.
"So, I was a little bit 'part time' [in musical terms] up until they left home. I f***ing love them, but it's been great recently – I've been able to concentrate on my favourite subject, me-me-me, my career and all that caper."
To be fair, Wobble has also started 'giving back' to his city of birth via weekly visits to Tuned In, the music-themed community project he's helped to establish at the Merton Arts Space at Wimbledon Library in south London.
"The idea was to get old lonely blokes, who were maybe old punks, who used to play and maybe fancy doing it again," says Wobble, who hails from Stepney in the east end.
"A mate of mine in London has been very helpful in running it and it's really taken off. It's a full house every Monday, so we're going to extend it to three nights a week with two nights in a new studio that we're building.
"It's a group of mixed ability, but there's actually some very very good players there, including one of the best drummers I've ever played with. He said to me, 'it's really good of you to do this' and I'm like, 'mate, I actually enjoy it'.
"And I do, because it keeps me playing – I'm a lazy f***er when it comes to practising."
We'll be getting a career-spanning set when Wobble and his Invaders of The Heart – George King (keys), Marc Layton-Bennett (drums/percussion), and Martin Chung (guitar) – return to Ireland for a pair of dates including his second ever performance in Belfast, following 2017's well received show at The Maple Leaf Club.
"I've finally got a smashing band, all gritty northern blokes I can rely on – unlike most musicians, who are like children", the bassist enthuses.
"What I require is musicians who are comfortable within all the main genres, and they are, but without being bland like session players. They've got to have a bit of fire in their bellies.
"It's important that we move from dub to jazz to doing an old Public Image number, to doing one of my 90s kind of world music numbers convincingly. They're cracking – talk to anybody and you'll hear that they're astonishingly good."
As for why it took Wobble, who has Irish Catholic heritage on both sides of his family, so long to finally play in Belfast (though to be fair, he beat former PiL colleague John Lydon, who still hasn't managed it), he's nothing but apologetic.
"It's funny how you just don't get to certain places – and Belfast was one that stuck out like a sore thumb," admits the Invaders of The Heart leader.
"You get the odd anomaly like that, but hopefully we're getting it sorted now. We loved it last time, it really meant something to me. I've got an Irish passport now and it felt fantastic to go to east Belfast, to see Harland & Wolff and all that, and be treated like a brother. It was f***king great to be there and have such a warm welcome."
Before he signs off, Wobble also shares his concerns over Brexit and its potential impact on Ireland.
"I'm very upset about Brexit," he tells me. "It's so f***ing daft, honestly. One of the first things I realised was 'What about the border?' You can't just say, 'Ah, it will be all right' because no, it f***ing won't be.
"Obviously, we're all aware of the Troubles – and no-one wants that back."
:: Jah Wobble's Invaders of The Heart, tonight, The Grand Social, Dublin / Saturday September 21, Ulster Sports Club, Belfast. Tickets via Ticketweb.ie